Ruta Smith

The 62nd annual Grammy Awards back in January concluded like any other major awards show does in 2020. The ceremony happened, the rich got richer, celebrities made a name for themselves (for better or worse), and people rushed to social media to debate what was good and bad. Things mostly went as expected.

But Charleston was celebrating.

That was all because the city’s beloved jazz-Gullah fusion band Ranky Tanky took home the award for Best Regional Roots Music Album. Now that award may not be Album of the Year or Best New Artist or any of the awards that go viral, but for a group like Ranky Tanky that’s the kind of award that puts some pride in your chest.

For the Lowcountry to be recognized for its music is no small feat, especially given the quiet history when it comes to South Carolina’s native music. Not only was a group from Charleston given glowing recognition on “music’s biggest night,” it was because of music that could only come from here.

Part of the deep locality of Good Time came from recording at Truphonic Recording Studios here in Charleston, where they also recorded their self-titled debut album. Some of the personnel included Vlado Meller, who has worked for artists like Kanye West and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and assistant engineer and Charleston native Elliott Elsey.

“It shows that it’s possible to do something like this here,” says Elsey. “It’s gratifying that it’s now possible for this music and this community to have the opportunity to be recognized on a stage like the Grammys. It’s just amazing that someone has been able to capture the city the way that Ranky Tanky has.”

When discussing the background of the album Elsey is very adamant that “The yellow brick road for Good Time was really laid by Quentin Baxter. Everything was scheduled and laid out really well but it never felt like work. We had two days originally. We loaded in on a Friday and on Saturday we got our sounds figured out, and then first pushed record on Sunday as a rehearsal day and we immediately got some really great takes. Anything that anyone didn’t like as we listened back was just, ‘No worries I’ll re-cut that solo.’ Quentin would lend time in the morning before sessions with the whole group to capture those moments with all of the players. He’d let people cut their individual parts until they felt happy with it. Getting to work with Quentin has been like my unofficial doctoral degree in recording and critical listening.”

“Meanwhile you had Charlton Singleton in the back of the room and he has perfect pitch, I could list analogies all day but he was really the Yoda of the whole thing. He would just have all of these sonic and tonal moments where he’d say something along the lines of, ‘Since I’m playing this note and Quiana’s singing that part, Clay ought to try doing this on guitar,’ and it was just priceless to have that kind of mind and voice in the room,” Elsey says.

Elsey says it was apparent from the top that what was happening at Truphonic was special.

“Immediately, the music sounded like something epic. The songs sounded huge and there wasn’t really a lot of production work to do on the back end because the musicians were so sharp and so tight. I think people can really identify with the Gullah rhythms and all of it just sounded really accessible and marketable.”

Some of the songs on Good Time were conceived when the band was touring behind their first album. And now with the attention of the large scale music industry, more time together on the road, and more and more ears eagerly awaiting what’s going to come next from Charleston’s newest musical icons, there are almost an infinite number of reasons to be excited for what the future holds for Ranky Tanky and the continued expression of music native to the Charleston area.